Tamarind is a popular drink flavor in many parts of the world, and it’s easy to see why — its flavor is as pure, delicious, and refreshing as lemon-aid. A really good tamarind tastes like lemon iced-tea, sour, yet tangy, and flavorful. Some are quite palatable, but most (which I picked up from Wegman’s) were far too sour to eat more than one or two at a time.
Fortunately, there exists a sweet tamarind, grown to be eaten as a fresh fruit. They come in a big purple box, which I found at the local asian market.
Before I review the sweet tamarind, I should go into their appearance. They’re pretty odd-looking, like a large brown bean pod with a hard, brittle outer shell. Suspended inside the shell (but only attached at one point) is the dry, sticky brown flesh of the fruit, a bit like a date. The flesh surrounds a series of hard, squarish inedible seeds, and surrounding the flesh is a skeletal network of “veins” (sounds gross but I don’t know what else to call them) which are what hold the fruit in place inside the shell. To eat, one must crack the shell and extricate the fruit, then pull the veiny stuff off the flesh (the veins come off in one shot if you grab them up at the top where they are all connected). It’s not hard, but it’s nearly impossible to do without getting your fingers sticky.
If it seems like a lot of work, well it is: between the skeletal support system, sticky seeds, and shattered shell debris, there’s a lot of mess per fruit. And you’re still not able to just chow down — you must carefully eat the fruit off from around the seeds. Still the delicious flesh of a sweet tamarind, while lacking a bit of the zesty, refreshing element of the far less “eatable” regular tamarind, makes a great snack. I think it’s worth the trouble.
Incidentally, some people, unfortunately ignorant of sweet tamarind, give the fruit a bad name (this is how I first heard of tamarind, and of course I ran out and bought some of the product they wrote about — and liked it — though I found out it’s mostly used for cooking, not candy). I don’t think anyone would have anything bad to say about sweet tamarind. It may not be very exotic or supremely delicious in flavor, but has an almost universal yumminess.
Finally, Goya brand tamarind soda is my favorite beverage. Seek it out! I’m not a fan of tamarind juice, however. It tends to be thick, gritty, and lacking the good flavor of other tamarind products.